Spring fire season, 4 p.m. burn law to take effect

virginia department of forestryVirginia’s 4 p.m. Burning Law goes into effect Feb. 15, 2016 – the start of spring fire season in the Commonwealth.  This law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day (Feb. 15 – April 30) if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

A violation of this law is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine.  In addition to the criminal violation, those who allow a fire to escape are liable for the cost of suppressing the fire as well as any damage caused to others’ property.

“Because people are the cause of more than 95 percent of wildland fires in the Commonwealth, the 4 p.m. burning law may be one of the most effective tools we have in the prevention of wildfires,” said John Miller, director of resource protection at the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF).  “Each late winter and early spring, downed trees, branches and leaves become ‘forest fuels’ that increase the danger of a wildfire.  By adhering to the law and not burning before 4 p.m., people are less likely to start a fire that threatens them, their property and the forests of Virginia.”

In 2015, there were 616 wildfires that burned a total of 5,906 acres of forestland in the Commonwealth.  This was significantly less than the 10-year average of 1,100 wildfires, which burn a total of 11,000 acres annually.

“If not for the suppression efforts of VDOF employees and local firefighters, 901 homes and other structures, worth an estimated $150 million, would have been damaged or destroyed last year by these wildfires,” said Miller.

Fred Turck, VDOF forest protection coordinator, said, “The leading cause of wildfires in Virginia is carelessness.  An unattended debris burning fire, a discarded cigarette or a single match can ignite the dry fuels that are so prevalent in the early spring.  Add a few days of dry, windy conditions and an escaped wildfire can quickly turn into a raging blaze.  People living in most rural areas of Virginia are especially at risk.  To take a quote from Smokey Bear, ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.’”

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself and your property or to learn how to become “Firewise,” visit www.dof.virginia.gov.